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Beijing admits Three Gorges Dam problems

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Beijing (UPI) May 23, 2011
China has acknowledged there are problems with its massive Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower station.

China Three Gorges Corp. said Sunday that an investigation conducted by China's National Audit Office had found 31 "financial issues" related to accounting, financial management, investment, bidding and corporate management, state-run Xinhua news agency reports.

That follows a statement Thursday from the State Council, China's Cabinet, in which it acknowledged "urgent problems" with 591-foot-tall dam, built at a cost of more than $23 billion.

"Although the Three Gorges project provides huge comprehensive benefits, urgent problems must be resolved regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection and geological disaster prevention," the statement said.

At stake could be China's goal of adding 140 gigawatts of new hydropower capacity over the next five years.

Most of the projects under discussion would be built in China's mountainous southwestern region, which is seismically active.

In April, Hu Siyi, a vice minister of water resources, acknowledged that the risk of earthquakes and other natural disasters posed the biggest obstacle to dam building in the southwest, saying the ability of water projects "to resist floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters has become an issue of increasing public concern."

A five-month drought, which state media reports say has severely affected 4.2 million people, has forced officials to discharge massive amounts of water from the Three Gorges reservoir.

The State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said it would accelerate the discharge rate to 10,000 cubic meters per second, about 3,000 cubic meters faster than its inflow rate, from May 20-24, and increase the rate to 11,000 to 12,000 cubic meters per second from May 25-June 10.

But these accelerations are arousing fears that abrupt falling of water levels could lead to landslides or even earthquakes.

"The fluctuating water levels of the reservoir on the Yangtze have destabilized hundreds of miles of slopes and triggered massive landslides," Peter Bosshard, policy director at International Rivers, a California advocacy group wrote on his blog, following the state council's acknowledgement of "urgent problems" associated with the dam.

"A key lesson of the Three Gorges Project is that dams can have serious geological impacts," he wrote.

During the engineered flooding required for the building of the dam, started in 1994, 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages were submerged and 1.8 million people displaced. The project started generating power in 2008 ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

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